Archives for the month of: December, 2020

Kentucky teacher and activist Randy Wieck writes on Fred Klonsky’s blog about the renewal of the Republican legislators’ efforts to raid teachers’ pension funds in Kentucky.

He begins:

At a time when the Republican super majorities in the Kentucky Legislature would seem to have more pressing issues to face – Covid-shuttered schools and businesses, unemployment supplements, eviction waivers, universal Covid testing and tracing – they nonetheless carry on with a new drive-by attempt at teacher pension “reform” which, once again, is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle (let us be honest and use the proper term – gut) the Kentucky teacher defined benefit pension plan; kill it once and for all.

The idea of properly funding the plan, according to relevant GASB accounting standards, and repairing the damage inflicted over several decades of underfunding – is one legislators choose to duck. Better to chisel Kentucky’s way out of the debt it has run up through using funds that should have gone to the teacher pension (known as the actuarially required contribution), and which were instead used for other purposes. Perhaps they are following the lead of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell who refuses to allow federal aid to states beset with heavy, unforeseen expenses during a worldwide pandemic. 

Rather than supply much-needed and adequate funding to TRS, (some $2 Billion per year for the foreseeable future) legislators instead prefer to “reform” the plan, placing new-hires into the old “beating-a-dead-horse” hybrid pension system.

Why not simply begin to pay back the missing funding and repair the damage inflicted by the legislature, and not by teachers who have dependably paid one of the highest pension contribution rates in the country (13%)? 

This article in the Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole is one of the best analyses of the reign of Mad King Donald that I have read.

His hairstyle has been toned down. His demeanour – malign, self-obsessed, reckless of truth and decency, revelling in the harm he has done and can still do to the norms and institutions of democracy – has not. 

This continuity is ominous. Trump was able to upend American politics before he was in office. There is every reason to think he will still be able to do so after he is replaced by Joe Biden on January 20th.

It is useful to go back to the period in 2016 when Trump was where his successor is now: the victor in the election but still not president. For it was in this interregnum that Trump took a single action that was scarcely noticed at the time but that, more than any other, defined his presidency.

That action had both the political destructiveness and the personal brutality that would become familiar as the primary weapons in Trump’s armoury. It consisted merely in ordering a load of ring-binders full of carefully compiled documents to be dumped. 

It was the day after Trump’s victory party, held of course in the garish Trump Tower in Manhattan. Chris Christie, who was still governor of New Jersey, a successful Republican in a heavily Democratic state, was the man with the 30 bulging binders.

In them was the transition plan, the crucial details of how a Trump administration was going to work, including shortlists of pre-vetted candidates for all the top jobs in the administration, as well as timetables for action on key policies and the drafts of the necessary executive orders.

It had taken a team of 140 people assembled under Christie’s chairmanship nearly six months to create the plan. 

Fired with immediate effect

When Christie arrived at Trump Tower, he was met by Trump’s then consigliere, Steve Bannon. Bannon told Christie that he was being fired with immediate effect “and we do not want you to be in the building anymore”. His painstaking work was literally trashed: “All thirty binders”, as Christie recalled in a self-pitying memoir, “were tossed in a Trump Tower dumpster, never to be seen again”.

With Trump, the personal and political could never be separated and both were equally at work here. The personal was silverback gorilla stuff, humiliating Christie was a sadistic pleasure and a declaration to established Republicans that Trump was the boss of them all now.

The political message was one that took longer to sink in. A transition plan implied some kind of basic institutional continuity, some respect for the norms of governance.

At the beginning, as at the end, the idea of an orderly transition of power was anathema to Trump.

Why? Because a timetable for action and a commitment to appoint, to the thousands of positions filled by the incoming president, people with expertise and experience, would constrain him. He was not going to be constrained.

Too many people did not get this. It is hard, after such a relentless barrage of outrage and weirdness over the last four years, to remember what the broad consensus about Trump was at the beginning of 2016.

It was that he wouldn’t be nearly as bad as he looked. To adapt the old saw about campaigning in poetry but governing in prose, he had campaigned in Gothic horror but he would surely govern in the realistic novel…

At worst, Trump would do nothing. He’d sit around eating cheeseburgers and making calls to Fox News, while the serious people got on with serious things.

All of this was to grossly underestimate Trump. He may have done plenty of the cheeseburgers and Fox News stuff. But he also kept his eye on the great strategic prize: the creation in the US of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics.

The big question to be answered about Trump is why he did not do two things that might have seemed obvious: infrastructure and war.

One of the things that was genuinely appealing about Trump in 2015 was that he said something that everyone knows but that American politicians avoid acknowledging because it is too downbeat.

This truth is that the infrastructure of the richest country in the world – the roads, railways, bridges, dams, tunnels – is woefully substandard. Trump said this and promised to fix it. Polls showed that two-thirds of voters approved.

Did not start a war

But he didn’t fix it. He presented a plan in 2018 for a relatively tiny $200 billion investment (supposedly to be supplemented by $1.5 trillion of private money). It went essentially nowhere.

The other thing he didn’t do is war. For all his belligerence and violently nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, Trump didn’t start a new war or escalate an existing one, which makes him unusual among modern presidents.

Arguably, these two things – building infrastructure and starting a military conflict – might just have got Trump re-elected. So why did he not do either of them?

His personal laziness is certainly one explanation: galvanising and directing such huge efforts is hard work.

But there is a deeper reason. Great building projects and military engagements validate the idea of government itself. Trump’s overwhelming instinct was to destroy that idea.

It is not just that Trump really was not interested in governing. It is that he was deeply interested in misgovernment.

He left important leadership positions in government departments unfilled on a permanent basis, or filled them with scandalously unqualified cronies. He appointed people to head agencies to which they had been publicly hostile.

Beneath the psychodrama of Trump’s hourly outbursts, there was a duller but often more meaningful agenda: taking a blowtorch to regulation, especially, but by no means exclusively, in relation to the environment.

This right-wing anarchism extended, of course, to global governance: the trashing of international agreements, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, sucking up to the leaders of mafia states, and open contempt for female leaders like Angela Merkel and Theresa May. 

With this discrediting of democratic governance, it is not just that we cannot disentangle the personal motives from the political ones. It is that the replacement of political institutions by personal rule was precisely the point.

Trump’s aim, in the presidency as in his previous life, was always simple: to be able to do whatever the hell he wanted. That required the transformation of elective office into the relationship of a capricious ruler to his sycophantic courtiers.

In this nexus, the madder the better. Power is proven, not when the sycophants have to obey reasonable commands, but when they have to follow and justify the craziest orders.

Wild swings of position

There is no fun in getting your minions to agree that black is black. The sadist’s pleasure lies in getting them to attest that black is white. The “alternative facts” that Trump’s enabler Kellyanne Conway laid down at the very beginning of his administration are not just about permission to lie. They’re about the erotic gratification of making other people lie absurdly, foolishly, repeatedly…

This is his legacy: he has successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable endpoint: disdain for the electoral process itself.

In this end is his new beginning. Stripped of direct power, he will face enormous legal and financial jeopardy. He will have every reason to keep drawing on his greatest asset: his ability to unleash the demons that have always haunted the American experiment – racism, nativism, fear of “the government”.

Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands. It is, for him, not goodbye but hasta la vista. Instead of waving him off, those who want to rebuild American democracy will have to put a stake through his heart.

The fact that anyone is discussing the possibility of martial law demonstrates how much Trump has degraded our democracy. When Hillary Clinton lost the election in the Electoral College in 2016, she graciously conceded; she didn’t demand endless recounts. Trump continues to whine about a “rigged” election, although historically it is the party in power that has the opportunity to “rig” any election. Although he lost more than 50 lawsuits in state and federal courts, his campaign is still litigating his loss, trying to throw out the vote in Pennsylvania. Since he apparently has no legal way to overturn the election, he is trying to dirty Biden’s clear victory over him, and at the same time, undermine the integrity of our electoral process, which is the basis of our democracy. He is a vengeful, spiteful baby, whining all the way out the door.

Amber Phillips wrote in the Washington Post about Trump’s desperate search for a way to overturn the electoral results, including martial law:

He’s thought about it. He’s hosted political and legal outcasts at the White House to talk about it.

Could President Trump declare martial law, or seize voting machines, or try to otherwise steal the election by force in his last month in office? Any of those would be an extreme escalation of Trump’s already unprecedented strong-arm tactics in his effort to overturn the election results.

The answer is no, he can’t do this stuff, say various national security and election law experts.

But even if these maneuvers aren’t in the president’s tool kit, it’s dangerous for him to talk about them in a way that risks normalizing them — let alone in Oval Office meetings, said nearly every expert The Fix spoke with.

“This is really dangerous stuff to start playing with,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, a national security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “You cannot normalize extrajudicial action outside the rule of law and believe democracy will hold. Democracies are fragile, even ours.”

But even if Trump could do any of the things he might be entertaining, they wouldn’t actually change the election results: Here’s what he’s mulling, according to Washington Post reporting, and why experts say these efforts won’t get him what he wants.

1. Declare martial law 

What this would do: Trump would put the military in charge. It would implement and enforce curfews, keep people in their homes. Former Trump national security adviser Michael T. Flynn has suggested the military could force states to rerun elections. It could even stop members of Congress from coming to work on Jan. 6 to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Could it happen? No, experts say. There’s absolutely no legal or political precedent for it. “Can the president invade the Congress of the United States? No, he cannot,” said Adav Noti, an election law expert with the Campaign Legal Center.

Some experts were skeptical the president could actually declare martial law in the first place. Governors have that power in their states, but the president doesn’t, Kleinfeld said. (The Post’s Gillian Brockell reports the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether a president can declare martial law without congressional approval.)

If you have martial law,” Kleinfeld said, “you have total suspension of the Constitution. So that’s a coup, and a coup in this country is not going to happen.”

Trump would also need military buy-in, and military leaders have said they’re not interested in entertaining any of these ideas. Experts were heartened that military leaders expressed regret for participating in a clearing of peaceful protesters outside the White House this summer so the president could pose for a photo he used for political purposes.

Also, declaring martial law wouldn’t do anything to change votes. What is a curfew in December going to do to change an election in November? States aren’t going to redo elections. And even if Congress were unable to certify results, on Jan. 20, the political and legal and military establishment would almost certainly recognize Biden as president. Biden has said he’s confident law enforcement would escort Trump out of the White House on that day if he refused to leave.

After reporting over the weekend that he was briefed on this idea by fringe advisers, Trump tweeted this, throwing cold water on the idea.

Trump has called plenty of accurate reporting “fake news” before, so it’s not the same as an outright denial.

2. Use the Insurrection Act to somehow get control

What this would do: This is slightly different from martial law in that it’s an actual legal tool the president has that allows him to use the military in extreme ways. The Insurrection Act allows the president to call in troops for domestic law enforcement, not unlike what he did this summer in Portland, Ore., during Black Lives Matter protests. It’s supposed to be used only in times of emergency.

But what emergency is there right now that would warrant the military taking to the streets? There is none. Trump could try to gin one up by encouraging protests across the nation on Jan. 6 as Congress certifies results, said Meredith McGehee, an expert in ethics in politics and the director of Issue One.

To that end, Trump allies are planning a rally in Washington that day. Trump is encouraging them: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted last week.

That’s scary language, said McGehee, who wondered whether Trump might try to do this in several cities to create the pretense of insurrection and chaos. “Now we have a president who is playing with the notion that we are going to solve conflict with violence,” she said. “That puts us up there truly with the banana republics.”

But this tactic would almost certainly face legal challenges and political blowback. “Talk about an idiotic idea,” Republican strategist Karl Rove recently said on Fox News. “There’s no ability for any president to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1803, claiming that the issue has got to do with the hubbub around the election.”

And just like declaring martial law, it wouldn’t actually change Trump’s results. The Insurrection Act “says nothing about: ‘Therefore the president can stay in power after he’s been voted out in a legitimate election,’” Kleinfeld said.

3. Seize voting machines from states

What this would do: It’s unclear, honestly. It’s an idea that’s been floated to the president on the basis he could somehow try to prove baseless claims that voting machines counted votes incorrectly, or that they were somehow hacked by communist countries.

But those claims been disproved. In Georgia, the Republican secretary of state has presided over three recounts, including one by hand, that confirmed the machines counted votes correctly. An Arizona judge allowed Republicans to view 100 ballots to search for fraud or miscounting, and they found nothing.

“We’re at a point where the votes have been counted,” Noti said. “The machines are done. There was no fraud.”

Also, this is illegal without states’ permission. The Constitution gives states the authority to run their own elections as they see fit. Taking the voting machines would fall to the Department of Homeland Security, and its head, Chad Wolf, has told the White House he’s doesn’t have the authority, according to Post reporting.

4. Set up a special counsel to investigate voter fraud

Trump has toyed with putting one of the most conspiracy-theory-minded lawyers in his orbit, Sidney Powell, into an official position to “investigate” whether there was fraud that led to his loss.

What this would do: Not much.

For one, it doesn’t seem like she’ll find anything. In six states he lost, officials have found just a handful of incidents worth investigating — nowhere near the tens of thousand of votes Trump would need to overturn his loss. The courts have nearly universally rejected his claims as well.

Two, she wouldn’t have much time. A special counsel can’t be removed by the next president, but a Biden Justice Department could just silo her and give her zero resources.

Three, the Justice Department would need to implement this, and it’s not clear Trump has that support. Attorney General William P. Barr said on his way out the door this week that he saw no need. His replacement, Jeffrey A. Rosen, hasn’t commented on this…

Of all the ideas floated out there, this one is the flimsiest, experts said. (But they stressed that they are all infeasible.) “Like all the post-election litigation by the president’s team, it’s all half-baked ideas that don’t have a basis in law and don’t have a basis in fact and don’t have any chance of success,” Noti said, “however success is defined other than whipping some portion of the American public into a frenzy.”

5. Have Congress protest the election 

What this would do: Again, nothing to change the election results. But this is one of the only ideas Trump has considered that he could legally do.

Well, not himself.

When Congress meets Jan. 6 to confirm Biden’s win, Trump has lined up several House Republican lawmakers to challenge as many as half a dozen states he lost. But they won’t actually succeed in changing the outcome. They don’t have support yet from a Republican senator, and without that, their objections die immediately.

If a Republican senator does join in — potentials include incoming senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama or Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — Congress has to debate and vote on their challenges. Lawmakers will almost certainly vote them down, even the Republican-controlled Senate. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, has said these challenges are “going down like a shot dog.” There’s no legal basis not to accept state’s electors that, taken together, make Biden president.

So all of this talk about possible actions is just that: talk. And Trump will probably continue to talk, and tweet, about the election up to noon on Jan. 20, at which point he will be the former president.

Dana Milbank is impressed by Alabama’s Senator-Elect Tommy Tuberville. Not in a positive way. Milbank thinks he may be the dimmest member of the Senate.

President-unelect Trump has studied every play in the Coups-for-Dummies playbook: court challenges, pressure on Republican officials to overturn the election, even a half-baked plan for martial law from pardoned convict Michael Flynn. But no luck.

Now, Trump’s final hope rests with Tommy Tuberville.
This is like finding out your death-row appeal will be argued by Sidney Powell.

Tuberville — or “Tubs,” from his college football coaching days — is the Republican senator-elect from Alabama, and he’s proposing to object to the election results in the Senate on Jan. 6. Trump exulted: “Great senator.”

Problem is, Tubs, if he were a Democrat, is what Trump might call a “low-IQ individual.” In their wisdom, the voters of Alabama chose to replace Democrat Doug Jones, who prosecuted the Birmingham church bombing, with a man who recently announced his discovery that there are “three branches of government,” namely, “the House, the Senate and the executive.”

In an interview with the Alabama Daily News, he also offered the insight that World War II was not, as many suppose, a conflict against Nazism. “My dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism,” he said.
He further informed the newspaper that “in 2000 Al Gore was president, United States, president-elect, for 30 days.” (Actual number of days Gore spent as president-elect: zero.)

For obvious reasons, Tubs avoided debates and interviews during the campaign. Even so, he imparted some extraordinary wisdom.

On climate change: “There’s one person that changes the climate in this country and that’s God,” he told Alabama’s Daily Mountain Eagle.

On the opioid epidemic: “It’s not just opioids now, it’s heroin …”

On health care: “We don’t have the answer until we go back to open up being a capitalistic health-care system where we have more than one insurance company.” (There are 952 health insurers in the United States.)

On education: “We’ve taken God out of the schools and we’ve replaced the schools with metal detectors.”
Tubs has declared his desire to serve on the Senate “banking finance” committee, apparently unaware that banking and finance are separate committees — and that he is ineligible to serve on banking because Alabama’s senior Republican senator already does.

Tuberville’s Senate campaign (in which he also defeated former attorney general Jeff Sessions) was a magical voyage of discovery, as he learned about such things as advice and consent. Senators “confirm judges all across the country, federal judges, and get them in place,” he marveled.

He also seemed to have no clue what the landmark Voting Rights Act was, telling Rotarians: “It’s, you know ― there’s a lot of different things you can look at it as, you know, who’s it going to help? What direction do we need to go with it? I think it’s important that everything we do we keep secure. We keep an eye on it. It’s run by our government. And it’s run to the, to the point that we, it’s got structure to it. It’s like education.”

Now this genius wants to make his first act as senator a doomed, symbolic challenge to the election that forces Republican colleagues into an embarrassing vote. Trump will soon be gone. But as long as there are mental giants such as Tubs, Trumpism will remain.

Tuberville had a mixed record as a football coach at Auburn, Cincinnati and Texas Tech. He had a brief broadcasting career with ESPN, once confusing Iowa and Iowa State, and, when asked for a game analysis, replying on hot mic, “Y’all make me do this s—.”

He also established his financial naivete: His business partner in a hedge fund pleaded guilty to fraud; Tuberville claimed he knew nothing. Tubs also was lured to invest in an alleged Ponzi scheme. He set up a foundation to help veterans, but veterans got only a third of the money raised.

As a candidate, Tubs offered exotic views on why rural hospitals closed (“because we don’t have Internet”), on impeachment (“I’ve been trying to keep up with it but it’s so hard”) and on constitutional democracy (“We’d probably get more done with just the president running this country. So let the Democrats go home”).

Tuberville was baffled by the vote counting after Election Day (“The referees are suddenly adding touchdowns to the other team’s side of the scoreboard”), and last week said he plans a Senate challenge to the electoral college tally.

Would you expect otherwise from this champion of civics education? “We’ve gotten away from teaching … history, civics, government,” he observed. And another time, “We’ve got to get our education back on the right track … we’re going to educate several generations in this country that really don’t understand this country.”

Eventually, people might not even know the three branches of government.

Joe Biden was very clear about his position on privately managed charter schools during the campaign.

In this video, he was asked by Lily Eskelsen Garcia what he would do about charter schools, and his position was clear: Charter schools should not be funded at the expense of public schools. No federal funds for privately funded charter schools. Charter schools should be subject to the oversight and governance of school boards. Charter schools should be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools.

Will he keep his promises?

Someone wrote an executive order, dated December 28, and signed Donald Trump’s name to it, declaring that the emergency conditions created by the COVID make it vital to use federal funds for vouchers. Don’t waste a minute! Scoop up federal funds and put your child in a substandard voucher school!

We know that Trump didn’t write the executive order because he’s at Mar-a-Lago nursing his grievances.

It appears to have been written by Jim Blew, who works for her and used to work for the Walton Foundation. Even if Trump refuses to concede, DeVos knows it’s over and she will use her last days in office to throw money out the door to find vouchers for private and religious schools.

Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week tweeted that the program Trump wants to use for vouchers is part of HHS, the Community Services Block Grants, and it does NOT make individual grants. Shows how desperate Betsy is to funnel money to vouchers as the sun sets on her days in the Department of Education.

He wrote:

In a new executive order, Trump says he’s authorizing HHS to allow Community Services Block Grant money to fund private school scholarships, homeschooling, and other education services “for use by any child without access to in-person learning.”

Then, in follow-up tweets”

The Community Services Block Grants program “provides funds to alleviate the causes and conditions of poverty in communities.” Notably, the program doesn’t provide direct grants to individuals.

It’s not immediately clear to me that Trump can do this through an executive order.

The Trump administration tried but failed to get a school choice expansion into the COVID relief package Trump signed yesterday.

Again, I’d pump the brakes before assuming this executive order delivers a major (or any) K-12 choice boost. Plus, Biden is on the way, etc...

It’s worth remembering that folks were reportedly negotiating to get vouchers/some form of school choice into the COVID deal up until the last few hours. I’m not sure if the Trump administration laid any regulatory groundwork for this EO, or if this is a last-ditch gesture.

He concludes his thread by saying that Betsy has pushed hard to get vouchers into the COVID bill.

David Ignatius writes for the Washington Post. He recently wrote an alarming column about Trump’s last gasp effort to overturn the election results and possibly attempt a coup. Recall that he ousted the top leadership of the pentagon to install sycophants. What does he have planned?

Not to be alarmist, but we should recognize that the United States will be in the danger zone until the formal certification of Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, because potential domestic and foreign turmoil could give President Trump an excuse to cling to power.

This threat, while unlikely to materialize, is concerning senior officials, including Republicans who have supported Trump in the past but believe he is now threatening to overstep the constitutional limits on his power. They described a multifaceted campaign by die-hard Trump supporters to use disruptions at home and perhaps threats abroad to advance his interests.

The big showdown is the Jan. 6 gathering of both houses of Congress to formally count the electoral college vote taken on Dec. 14, which Biden won 306 to 232. The certification should be a pro forma event, but a desperate Trump is demanding that House and Senate Republicans challenge the count and block this final, binding affirmation of Biden’s victory before Inauguration Day.

Trump’s last-ditch campaign will almost certainly fail in Congress. The greater danger is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos. A pro-Trump group called “Women for America First” has requested a permit for a Jan. 6 rally in Washington, and Trump is already beating the drum: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

Government officials fear that if violence spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military. Then Trump might use “military capabilities” to rerun the Nov. 3 election in swing states, as suggested by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Trump “could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election,” Flynn told Newsmax in a Dec. 17 interview.

The Pentagon would be the locus of any such action, and some unusual recent moves suggest pro-Trump officials might be mobilizing to secure levers of power. Kash Patel, chief of staff to acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller, returned home “abruptly” from an Asia trip in early December, according to Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin. Patel didn’t explain, but in mid-December Trump discussed with colleagues the possibility that Patel might replace Christopher A. Wray as FBI director, one official said. Wray remains in his job.

Another strange Pentagon machination was the proposal Miller floated in mid-December to separate the code-breaking National Security Agency from U.S. Cyber Command, which are both currently headed by Gen. Paul Nakasone. That proposal collapsed because of bipartisan congressional opposition.

But why did Trump loyalists suggest the NSA-Cyber Command split in the first place? Some officials speculate that the White House may have planned to install a new NSA chief, perhaps Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the young conservative recently installed to oversee Pentagon intelligence activities.

With firm control of the NSA and the FBI, the Trump team might then disclose highly sensitive information about the origins of the 2016 Trump Russia investigation. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe tried to release this sensitive intelligence before the election, despite protests from intelligence chiefs that it would severely damage U.S. national security. Trump retreated under pressure from then-Attorney General William P. Barr, among others.

Trump’s final weeks in office will also be a tinder box because of the danger of turmoil abroad. Iranian-backed militias fired more than 20 rockets last Sunday at the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, with around nine hitting the compound but inflicting no American casualties. The United States sent intense, high-level messages to Tehran, public and private, warning against any further provocation. The toughest was a Dec. 23 tweet from Trump warning: “If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.” State Department and Pentagon officials say Trump’s retaliatory threat is real.

Another potential flash point is just a week away. Jan. 3 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. targeted killing of Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraq militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Any new violence could ignite a quick cycle of escalation that could bring direct conflict between the United States and Iran during Trump’s final weeks in office.

The heroes in preserving the United States’ hopes of a stable democratic transition, perhaps ironically, have been some courageous, principled Republicans: judges in state and federal courts, including Supreme Court justices nominated by Trump; secretaries of state and other election monitors; a disappointingly small handful of GOP senators and members of Congress, and even a few members of Trump’s inner circle like White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who is said to have resisted some of Trump’s disruptive plans. They have all stood up in different ways for the rule of law.

Trump won’t succeed in subverting the Constitution, but he can do enormous damage over the next weeks. Before Jan. 6, a delegation of senior Republicans should visit him at the White House and insist, emphatically: Biden has won. This must stop.

Amber Phillips of the Washington Post has been keeping watch on Trump’s futile effort to reverse his loss. He simply can’t believe that he is a loser. A LOSER. He said again and again on the campaign trail in 2016 that under him, the country would get tired of winning so much. But the one thing he finds impossible to accept is that he did not win. The votes have been cast, the Electoral College has voted, the election is over: He lost. But he won’t concede, and his friends say he will never concede.

The next event in the process prescribed by the Constitution occurs on January 6, when Congress votes to acknowledge the report of the Electoral College, which Biden won by 306-232, exactly the same vote as in 2016 when Trump said he won a “landslide.” The big difference is that Biden also won the popular vote, by at least seven million, unlike 2016, when Trump lost the popular vote by three million. Biden won both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but Trump simply won’t accept reality. He continues to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from his “base,” to help fund his fight to win. Imagine getting a letter from a billionaire, asking you to pitch in to help pay his legal fees.

Phillips wrote:

There’s one final maneuver that some of President Trump’s allies in Congress say they will use to attempt to deny Joe Biden a win: an 1880s law that allows members of Congress to challenge a state’s results and make the whole Congress vote on whether to accept the results. It’s been attempted after almost every election for the past two decades. It got nowhere in the past, and it almost certainly won’t now.

This year, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) is leading the charge to challenge Biden’s win, and Politico reportshe’s brought nearly a dozen other House Republicans to meet with the president to talk about it. Trump has responded encouragingly. But for this plan to work, House members need at least one senator to sign on to each challenge they raise. That may come from Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who will be in the Senate by Jan. 6 and expressed openness to the idea. Trump said he’s recently spoken to Tuberville about this.

It has become the norm after recent elections for House lawmakers on the losing side to try to put up a symbolic fight over the results.

This time, though, it’s not happening in a normal post-election period. The president has tried everything else — baseless fraud claims, undermining voting by mail, dubious legal challenges and strong-arming state legislatures — to try to reverse his loss. He’s running out of long shots to take.

Here’s how this works, and why it will almost certainly fall short.

Congress’s role in a presidential election

It’s on the front end and back end of the election. Congress sets the election date. After that, states take over, notably deciding how they want to hold their individual elections and certifying their own results.

Once states certify their results and once the electoral college votes Dec. 14, states send their electoral college vote totals to Congress to be counted and confirmed. This happens Jan. 6. It’s largely a formality since election law says Congress has to treat those results as “conclusive.”

But there is a mechanism that allows lawmakers to challenge those results. It’s an extremely confusing, poorly written law from the 1880s known as the Electoral Count Act, which was written to help guide Congress if there is a dispute in a state about which candidate won.

It’s important to note that we don’t expect any disputes among the states about who won, so in some sense Brooks is misinterpreting when Congress can challenge results.

Here’s what happens next in this scenario. Experts warn that the law is so convoluted that if we get really into this process, there is lots of room for disagreement or exploitation of the law to try to overturn the results, if enough Republicans are game. (That’s a big if.)

What we know will happen if Republicans challenge the election results

  • When Congress convenes to vote to count each state’s electors and confirm results, a lawmaker from each chamber, the House of Representatives and the Senate, challenges one state’s electors at a time. We don’t yet know if Tuberville or another senator will officially sign onto a challenge; if they don’t, the challenge efforts end immediately. Top Senate Republicans are speaking out forcefully against joining in. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has urged senators to stay away from this. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) ‚the No. 2 Senate Republican, said that any challenges are “going down like a shot dog.” The law says lawmakers don’t have to give a detailed explanation for why they object; they basically just object.
  • The House and the Senate then separate and debate the challenge for up to two hours.
  • They vote in separate sessions on whether to accept or reject the challenge to that state’s electors. They have to do this for each state challenged, and Trump’s allies are giving indications they could try to challenge results in several states. So it’s possible Jan. 6 could be a long day.
  • In the House, that’s an easy vote to predict, since it’s controlled by Democrats. In the Senate, two runoffs in Georgia won’t yet be finished, so Republicans will have the majority — but narrowly, with Vice President Pence presiding in a tie-breaking vote. So far, no Republican senators seem keen on voting to challenge a state’s results, and it would take a lot more than a handful of Republicans to vote to override a state’s electoral count. “I can’t imagine that that would happen,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is a top Senate Republican. Their resistance to this idea is notable given that many of Republican lawmakers still haven’t explicitly recognized Biden as the winner. Does their willingness to appease Trump stop at voting to overturn a candidate’s duly won electors?
  • Legally it’s even clearer that Congress has nothing to challenge, said Adav Noti with the Campaign Legal Center and an expert on this process. All the states that are in Trump’s crosshairs met every legal requirement for having their electoral votes recognized by Congress, and federal law says Congress must treat such results as “conclusive.” So a challenge is likely to end pretty quickly.
  • If both chambers separately vote Biden the winner, then this is over. All Trump’s allies did was delay the inevitable.

Where the process could get muddled

Okay, but hypothetically what happens if Republicans somehow decide to push this challenge further?

If the Senate decided to vote in favor of a challenge to a state’s electors, then this is still over, Noti says. If the state in question has offered Congress only one count of electoral votes — as all states are doing — then the law still says Congress has to accept that slate. (Unless both chambers of Congress somehow vote to object to that state, which won’t happen.)

If there were multiple slates of electors to decide from, and if the chambers disagreed on which one to choose, then the tiebreaker would be the governor who certified the results. That’s good news for Biden, since the governors of several states that Republicans have been trying to challenge — Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania — are Democrats.

So even if we drift far into hypotheticals on this, there are numerous checks that would protect Biden’s win.

One question is what Pence’s role would be. He is the presiding officer in the Senate, but Noti says the law was written to limit the vice president’s authority, realizing he probably has a keen interest in the outcome.

So his role is more symbolic than anything else — he reads the vote counts of each state out loud — but perhaps he could exert his influence to challenge a state’s results, too. Noti says Congress could override him quickly.

Two vice presidents have used their power recently to the other effect, to end a challenge that would favor them or their party. In 2017, House Democrats challenged Trump’s win, and it was then-Vice President Joe Biden who was presiding over everything. “It is over,” he told Democrats. In 2001, it was then-Vice President Al Gore, who had narrowly lost the election to George W. Bush, who presided over a failed Democratic challenge to Bush’s win.

As The Post’s Mike DeBonis reports, members of the party that lost the presidential election have raised objections after nearly every election since 2000. All have failed, and only one succeeded in splitting the chambers to force them to debate the challenge. When certifying the contentious 2000 election, House Democrats tried to challenge Gore’s loss using Florida’s electoral votes, but they couldn’t find a Senate partner to get things started.

In 2005, House Democrats challenged Bush’s reelection the same way over the result in Ohio. Then-Sen. Barbara Boxer of California joined them, but the effort was quashed pretty quickly. House Democrats tried again in 2016 to challenge Trump’s win, but no senator was willing to stand with them.

A music teacher in Meriden, Connecticut, wrote this comment about Miguel Cardona on Facebook. The teacher is a BAT (BadAss Teachers Association). Jake Jacobs, co-administrator of the BATS, circulated this post.

I can tell you this much–he was my principal and evaluator for one year, during a low point in my career. Of the nine principals (and couple dozen assistants) I have worked under, he is the only one who has ever had a conversation with me about my teaching. His is the only formal observation I have ever had that was conducted in a way where the goal was to help me be a better teacher. When I needed something, he did his best to provide it. When he had to say no, he explained why honestly and respectfully. When he moved to central office, he focused on teacher evaluation and had frank and honest discussions with teachers about the state of teacher eval and the different issues and potential pitfalls of different systems. He is thoughtful, open, and kind, and treats everyone with respect and compassion. Most important, while he is ambitious–he made no secret as principal that he got his Ed. D. with an eye toward being a superintendent–he is someone who is more interested in getting things right and in making true improvements than he is in seeing his name in lights. He acts like someone who wants to be in positions where he can make a difference for the benefit of others, not for his own aggrandizement. I can’t speak on his positions on this or that issue. We’re not friends, just former colleagues, and I’ve not said more than “hello” to him in over seven years. But there is no one I’ve dealt with in administration whom I respect more. I am confident that he will approach this job with all the qualities that made him a success at every level along the way.”

On December 23, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona spoke, accepting President-Elect Joe Biden’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Education:

He said:

Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect — thank you for this opportunity to serve.

I know just how challenging this year has been for students, for educators, and for parents.

I’ve lived those challenges alongside millions of American families — not only in my role as a state education commissioner, but as a public school parent and as a former public school classroom teacher.

For so many of our schools and far too many of our students, this unprecedented year has piled on crisis after crisis.

It has taken some of our most painful, longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider.

It has taxed our teachers, our leaders, our school professionals and staff who already pour so much of themselves into their work.

It has taxed families struggling to adapt to new routines as they balance the stress, pain, and loss this year has inflicted.

It has taxed young adults trying to chase their dreams to advance their education beyond high school, and carve out their place in the economy of tomorrow.

And it has stolen time from our children who have lost something sacred and irreplaceable this year despite the heroic efforts of so many of our nation’s educators.

Though we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we also know that this crisis is ongoing, that we will carry its impacts for years to come, and that the problems and inequities that have plagued our education system since long before COVID will still be with us even after the virus is at bay.

And so it is our responsibility now, and our privilege to take this moment, and do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis.

To draw on our resolve, our ingenuity, and our tireless optimism as a people, and build something better than we’ve ever known before.

That’s the choice Americans make every day — it’s the choice that defines us as Americans.

It’s the choice my grandparents made, Avelino and Maria de La Paz Cardona, and Germana Muniz Rosa, when they made their way from Aguada, Puerto Rico, for new opportunities in Connecticut.

I was born in the Yale Acres housing projects. That’s where my parents, Hector and Sara Cardona, instilled early on the importance of hard work, service to community, and education.

I was blessed to attend public schools in my hometown of Meriden, Connecticut, where I was able to expand my horizons, become the first in my family to graduate college, and become a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in the same community that gave me so much.

That is the power of America — in two generations.

And I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans.

For me, education was the great equalizer. But for too many students, your zip code and your skin color remain the best predictor of the opportunities you’ll have in your lifetime.

We have allowed what the educational scholar Pedro Noguera calls the “normalization of failure” to hold back too many of America’s children.

For far too long, we’ve allowed students to graduate from high school without any idea of how to meaningfully engage in the workforce while good-paying high-skilled, technical, and trade jobs go unfilled.

For far too long, we’ve spent money on interventions and bandaids to address disparities instead of laying a wide, strong foundation of quality, universal early childhood education, and quality social and emotional supports for all of our learners.

For far too long, we’ve let college become inaccessible to too many Americans for reasons that have nothing to do with their aptitude or their aspirations and everything to do with cost burdens, and, unfortunately, an internalized culture of low expectations.

For far too long, we’ve worked in silos, failing to share our breakthroughs and successes in education — we need schools to be places of innovation, knowing that this country was built on innovation.

And for far too long, the teaching profession has been kicked around and not given the respect it deserves.

It should not take a pandemic for us to realize how important teachers are this country.

There are no shortage of challenges ahead, no shortage of problems for us to solve.

But by the same token, there are countless opportunities for us to seize.

We must embrace the opportunity to reimagine education — and build it back better.

We must evolve it to meet the needs of our students.

There is a saying in Spanish: En La Unión Está La Fuerza.

We gain strength from joining together.

In that spirit, I look forward to sitting at the table with educators, parents, caregivers, students, advocates, and state, local, and tribal leaders.

There is no higher duty for a nation than to build better paths, better futures for the next generation to explore.

For too many students, public education in America has been a flor pálida: a wilted rose, neglected, in need of care.

We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it, who work every day to preserve its beauty and its purpose.

I am grateful for the chance to take on this responsibility. And I’m grateful to my own children — Miguel Jr., or, as we call him, Angelito, and my daughter Celine, and to my wife and best friend, Marissa — herself a middle school Family School Liaison.

And I am grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me, Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect.

I look forward to getting to work on behalf of all America’s children — and the families, communities, and nation they will grow up to inherit and lead.

Thank you.